Thursday, August 21, 2008

A New Way to Work

In 1995 I worked as an intern for Colgate-Palmolive.
The environment was so intense, I remember feeling guilty for taking enought time to myself to go to the bathroom. Everyone was so focused, work consumed every moment, and no one actually dared to use their entire 30 minute lunch.

Because of this experience, I remember telling a friend of mine to "arrive 10 min before the boss and leave 10 min after if you want to succeed." The sad part was, I was right. It was great advice, because of the way people tend to view accomplishment. Notice my advice said nothing about actually working. The key to success was to appear to be working. But are you accomplishing anything by merely planting your butt in a chair? Are you getting work done because someone can see you sitting in a cube? No way. Time is a horrible way to meaure success. But most managers do, so employees learn to play the game. That's why people who aren't doing anything are able to stay in the system for years on end. But the reality is, we live in a day and age with phone and internet where you can be anywhere and get your work done.

I just finished reading a book called Why Work [Stinks] and How to Fix it. (It's not 'Stinks', but I think their word is tacky, so I'm not putting it on this blog.) They present a ROWE: Results-Only-Work-Environment that BestBuy has been gradually implementing over the years. Their basic premise: do whatever you want, whenever you want, as long as your work gets done. In this setting, gone are the days of submitting a request to go out of the office to a dentist appointment, or feeling guilty for leaving at 4:30, even though your work is done. And LONG GONE are the days when people are able to appear as if their working just because their backside is in a chair. The bottom line is results. Are you getting your job done? Then you get to stay (or leave, or whatever you want to do). If you're not getting your job done, you're fired. It's that simple.

My favorite guideline to this environment is that "all meetings are optional." Have you ever been invited to a meeting that could have been summarized in a five bullet point email? One more hour flushed down the toilet, but it was considered 'work' by everyone in the room. Jack Welch said it well: When you're meeting, you're not working. Meetings have some value, but they are not work, they are simply communication. This rule pulls the rug out from under those perpetual meeting organizers that invite eveyrone as a power play. Now no meeting is planned without a clear agenda and outcome, out of fear of rejection from the invitees.

I imagine the concept of a ROWE makes most people skepitcal. So check out the book and notice their stats on productivity. They have hard data showing that people in a ROWE are more productive, happier, and healthier. What else could an employer want? If you ran a company and someone said "I can guarantee to make your employees more productive, happier, and healthier", wouldn't you listen? Not only that, but good employees in a ROWE are more likely to stay with their company. Involuntary turnover rates PLUMMETED.

It's almost ironic that most people go to college and experience an environment of complete freedom, one that is specifically designed to prepare people for a career, and yet the business world is anti-personal responsibility. In college, you attend class if you want, you decide what's important, you can do your homework when you want - as long as you get it done. We're taught to manage our own time, then we go into the work force and what happens? You can only work from 8-5, with a 30 min lunch break and a couple of potty breaks.

But shouldn't you be treated like an adult at work of all places? Help be a part of creating a revolution in the work place. Kick guilt out the door and bring trust back in. Read the book, or check out the authors' website, and pass it along to every manager or employer you can.

No comments: